Why would Facebook or any company need a hardware lab? Well, whenever Facebook had to test its gadgets or outsource prototyping, it was always delayed as there was no place to do these tasks. Now, Facebook’s 10-year plan involved a lot of hardware, therefore, it only made sense to build a laboratory dedicated to hardware at its Menlo Park headquarters. Here, Facebook will prototype its next generation serves, VR headsets, Internet-beaming lasers and of course, the solar drones.
This week, Facebook gave a group of journalists, a sneak peek of Area 404.
Facebook’s Head of Engineering & Infrastructure, Jay Parikh, said that the laboratory covers an area of about 22,000 square feet and is named Area 404. The lab was named after the “Not Found” error code as every time engineers wanted to prototype new hardware, the resources and space was “not found” at Facebook. So, to solve this problem, Facebook burrowed out some old offices in Menlo Park headquarters and turned them into a white, gleaming space that looks like a haven for hackers.
Area 404 is home to expensive, gigantic and dangerous machines and has a few rooms where Mark Zuckerberg isn’t allowed either. Facebook strongly follows the 5S system of safety which includes sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. Each tool is labelled and put in a square box of tape.
“Our first hardware lab was a big as a desk in the old mail room” says Parikh. His personal favorite is an 10,000X magnification electron microscope. The microscope is used to inspect minuscule issues in the hardware. The construction of Area 404 began 9 months earlier and is now almost completed.
Parikh explains that Area 404 was created for 2 purposes:
- To create a space where different hardware engineers of Facebook can get together and work on common problems.
- To establish a state-of-the-art laboratory for hardware with equipment necessary for prototyping and fail-testing Facebook’s new gadgets and gizmos.
This will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for Facebook to turn a conceived device into a workable prototype which can later be sent for mass production. Facebook’s Building 8 tech division, Internet.org Connectivity team, the Oculus VR squad and Facebook’s Infrastructure teams can now coordinate and work together under one roof.
What is inside the lab? Well, everything from computer-controlled 9-axis mills that design metallic prototypes to 3D design software modeling stations to an MRI scanning equipment to scrutinize devices for faults. One major part of the lab is dedicated for experimentation and the other major part is made of workshops for hardware prototyping.
What hardware will be built here?
- Parts for solar plane, Aquila drone
- Improved version of Rift headset by Oculus
- Surround 360 camera
- Project ARIES antenna and Terragraph wifi nodes – inventions by Connectivity Lab
- Network switch Wedge and Open Vault storage
- Sensors for the OpenCellular platform – a Telecom Infra project
Between the Oculus hub in Seattle and the hangar for Aquila drone in the UK, it is obvious that hardware isn’t new to Facebook. But with a dedicated Area 404, Facebook can succeed in hardware arena with the same pace as it succeeded in the arena of software.
What do you think about the gleaming white hardware lab by Facebook? Did you like the name? Let us know in the comments section.